Barney Bishop Op-Ed Response: Justice, not questioning rights, should prevail in Martin case

April 12, 2012  |  No Comments  |  by Barney Bishop  |  Columns

I respectfully disagree with everything that was said in the column “We Need a Broad Review of Gun Laws” (Byron Dobson, April 8 ) except the suggestions that we look into the training that law enforcement officers receive on the Stand Your Ground law. That is a worthy idea and can be implemented immediately.

The rest of the commentary is wrong on so many levels. First, I applaud Gov. Rick Scott for his sound and measured response to the incident itself and the attempt by many to influence justice by protesting — which is OK by me — except that to expect justice to be meted out this way is just plain wrong regardless of the circumstances. In the last century and before, we called this lynching by mob and we don’t allow that to happen in a civilized world anymore. The governor’s appointment of a special prosecutor, which most other governors have done time and time again, is the only appropriate choice.

I also admire the Governor’s, Senate President’s and House Speaker’s unwillingness to have an immediate review because it would only be a reactionary event that could turn into a rush to judgment. That’s not impassionate, blind-folded justice; it’s about assuming someone is guilty before they are proven innocent.

Despite what has been written about the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin case, we do not yet know all of the facts and law enforcement is still doing its job. Let’s give them time to do their work and take some solace that many law enforcement agencies are involved.

To use this unfortunate event as a rallying cry for gun control is illogical. And to suggest that 800,000 concealed weapons permits is somehow wrong, I just don’t get it. Beyond the fact that it is the Second Amendment in our Constitution, not the seventh or 10th, its importance is embodied only behind free speech. As an owner of guns and a proud NRA member, there is nothing wrong about defending yourself at your castle. Perhaps this law is being abused, but a fair and impartial hearing on the Stand Your Ground law is not possible in this whipped-up hysteria.

 

Neither I nor any of my friends believe that what happened is right, and peaceful protests are a God-given right. So is the right to bear a firearm however, and for the 99 percent of our citizenry who abide by the law and who only want fairness and justice for everyone, there can be no breach of our right either.

I understand why some people would believe there should be gun control because I grew up in a household without there ever being a gun in our home. But there is nothing wrong with owning a gun — it is a God-given right, and by the way, we don’t want any Constitutional rights trampled. Unfortunately, I can’t say that for those in our society who want to take away our right to own or carry a concealed gun, especially when we have been trained and licensed by government to carry one.

As a lobbyist, I have known Sen. Chris Smith for many years and I respect him and if he wants to host a meeting, that’s fine too. But, if justice is to prevail for Zimmerman — as it must for any of us — I sure hope that America remains a country where justice prevails with all due speed but without a presumed guilty-ness.

As for the comment that Trayvon could have been the son of Mayor John Marks, I would have hoped that in this day and age that the correct comment is that Trayvon could have been any of our sons. Everyone’s life is precious regardless of their sex, race, ethnicity or faith. We are all in this together. Let justice, which can often be slow and meticulous, work because we have a many-layered legal system that continues to be the best and the fairest in the world.

— Barney T. Bishop III is president and CEO of Barney Bishop Consulting in Tallahassee. He can be reached at barney@barneybishop.com.

Byron Dobson: We need a broad review of gun laws

The political upheaval and emotional toll that the wait for resolution is taking in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin has prompted state lawmakers and even some members of Congress to respond by urging a repeal of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law.

That sentiment was expressed in Tallahassee last week when nearly 200 people participated in a march to the Capitol, expressing outrage over the fact that George Zimmerman has not been indicted in the shooting death of Martin.

Tallahassee Mayor John Marks, who will host the ninth annual Mayor’s Summit on Race, Culture and Human Relations beginning Monday in Tallahassee, expressed his own concerns over the Martin case. He was quoted in the Miami Herald saying, “But for the grace of God, Trayvon could have been my son. We’re not here to try (Zimmerman) in the streets or through the press. We just want the justice system to work as it should.”

Marks’ comments ring strong. The most immediate resolution would be for special prosecutor Angela Corey to bring charges against Zimmerman. Another option is to present it to a grand jury, where it could become a roll of the dice.

The case has been botched from the beginning, and this is what has raised so much doubt among protesters who have propelled this case to the national attention it deserves. Zimmerman admits shooting and killing Martin, saying the young man’s actions made him fear for his life. But then days went by without an arrest, and that has now turned into weeks. The Sanford police chief and the state attorney for that area both declined to file charges against Zimmerman, citing the state law that permits a person to defend himself in a situation where his life is threatened.

Unable to persuade Gov. Rick Scott to call for an immediate review and also getting the same reaction from Florida’s legislative leaders, state Sen. Chris Smith, a Democrat from Broward County, decided to take the lead by launching his own probe of the law and its impact, starting with a public forum Thursday in Fort Lauderdale.

And while Smith’s insistence on gathering evidence to support a revision or repeal of the law is commendable, such efforts appear to be premature if any review is going to have any major impact. As a state legislator, Smith has the right to respond to the call of his constituents and to address the sentiment that is being carried out in marches across the country. But at this point, there seem to be several factors that need to be addressed.

For instance:

• Why not expand it to review Florida’s laws on racial profiling?

• Why not re-examine Florida’s liberal laws on the ability to obtain a concealed weapons permit?

• Why not look into examining what training law-enforcement officers have in the current “Stand Your Ground” law?

Florida is known for having some of the most liberal gun-related legislation in the country. Published reports last week indicated that more than 800,000 concealed weapons permits have been issued in Florida. The Department of Agriculture, which issues such permits, estimates that an additional 100,000 permits are brought into the state by visitors.

The Martin case has opened a ton of questions that need to be addressed regarding handgun access and the laws that currently protect owners’ right to use them.

To his credit, Gov. Scott has ordered the creation of a panel that will review the Martin shooting and determine what issues arise from that probe that need to be addressed. Most certainly there will be a call for a review of “Stand Your Ground” that will set off another political debate along party lines and heavily influenced by the National Rifle Association.

As for what legislative action will be addressed once the Martin case is closed, that will ultimately be decided by Florida’s voters.

 

Smart Justice is Really Smart Business

April 3, 2012  |  No Comments  |  by Barney Bishop  |  Columns

Almost five years ago the “Smart Justice” idea was borne out of the necessity to stop Florida’s unrelenting prison construction program under which then-Gov. Charlie Crist proposed building 19 new prisons, each costing $150 million before prisoners were even interned.  Florida TaxWatch in its first Government Cost Savings Task Force Report recommended against this prison-industrial complex, my words not theirs, and a small group decided that we needed to radically change course. Had Crist prevailed, our state’s debt would have increased by over $2 billion.

The premise was simple:  if we expected different outcomes – less recidivism – then we had to do business in a smarter fashion. It was decided that diversion on the front-end for non-violent criminals and low-level druggies, education, life skills training, along with substance abuse and mental health services while in prison, and then a successful transitional/re-entry program including work release would save significant dollars, and get us the outcomes that we clearly needed.  Both character-based and faith-based programs would be embraced.

Despite a relatively good 32 percent recidivism rate by the Department of Corrections, we can and must do much better if we are to save dollars to spend on more worthy societal needs.  Last year, new Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters championed a statewide Civil Citation program that, if it is as successful as her 15-year-old program in Miami and Tom Olk’s program in Tallahassee, has the potential to save taxpayers $150 million annually.  And that’s key because 50 percent of all kids that enter the juvenile justice system will unfortunately go on to prison.  If we cut off the head of the snake now, then we have a chance to alter the same old lousy outcomes:  innocent victims and costly incarceration.

Because we weren’t advocating early release of any state prisoners nor amending the  law requiring they serve 85 percent of their sentence, we received the early support of the Florida Police Benevolent Association and interestingly, prison guards raised their hands to work at faith-based prisons because they are the safest in the state.

To incarcerate 100,000 prisoners, Florida taxpayers pay more than $2 billion annually on our correctional system. More than 35,000 prisoners are released each year and within three years, almost a third of them will be back in prison. To his credit Gov. Rick Scott saw the folly of the status quo and in his budget, fully endorsed the idea of providing services to prisoners to elicit better outcomes.

Now, a recent poll by TaxWatch (www.floridataxwatch.org) and AIF (www.aif.com), which most of the mainstream press ignored, proves that Gov. Scott is leading public opinion even among his most die-hard fans:  conservative GOP voters who normally would be expected to be the lock’em up and throw away the key thinkers. The top numbers were shocking – 88 percent support supervised work-release; 86 percent believe “tough on crime” politicians should support community supervision, mandatory drug testing and treatment; 84 percent want non-violent offenders sent to cost-effective alternatives instead of prison; and most intriguing of all was that 81 percent of Republicans believe legislators who send minor, non-violent criminals to supervised work release to repay victims and save taxpayers from footing their prison bills would earn their vote at election time.  Well, hallelujah!

Now, the idea of smarter justice has been adopted at the federal level by a group called Right On Crime, I love the name, whose leaders include former FBI Director William Sessions, former Drug Czar Bill Bennett, Newt Gingrich and even Grover Norquist.  Former Gov. Jeb Bush has importantly become the first Floridian to sign on and with such enlightened interest among the toughest voters and its leaders, can Florida policy makers be far behind?

This is a cause that we should all care about because the alternative means more crime victims and a costly prison system that is determined to perpetuate itself if we as taxpayers do not say “enough is enough.” Likewise, the business community has a vested interest because when the economy finally improves, we will need employees with skills who want to make a better life.

Barney Bishop III, former head of Associated Industries of Florida, is the founder of Barney Bishop Consulting. You can contact him at barney@barneybishop.com.